Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Away From the Garden

I've been away from the garden more than I want to be.

I missed being here, you might even say I needed to be in the garden. It grounds me, nourishes me, relaxes me. It is part of the rhythm of my life. In the winter I read about gardening, not just the garden catalogs, but books about wildflowers and perennials. Gardening is a passion....right there at the top of the list of musts ...I must have time with my husband, I must talk with my son each week, I must have time in the garden, I must have a walk every day...

I do work, but my office is in my home. So, I can visit the garden any time. Out the door, down the steps and walk about, weeding here and there.... looking for what has newly bloomed. Back inside, put the kettle on for tea and get ready for the next client.

My therapy clients pass through the front garden to get to my office. Sometimes we have a session on the screened porch. They tell me that they love the garden. They say it's a peaceful place, a safe place. I hope it is, it's important to me that they feel safe, that they find peace and a place to begin their healing process.

Gardens heal...and for people in pain, stopping to look at a daffodil in bloom
or a vignette of colorful flowers can be soothing. There are clients who just march in and don't stop to look. There are a few who arrive early and spend time looking around. Then there are the folks who stop and look around as they are leaving, asking me about the plants. Some of my clients have plants from the garden, I always share...everyone needs a garden.

I didn't plan this to be a healing garden or even a therapy garden; it's just my garden. The garden that provides joy for me, that is a part of the rhythm of my life. I'd like to believe that the garden helps my clients. There is research that suggests that even a short period of time sitting in nature or looking at photos of nature relieves stress.

Gardeners know this is true...we experience it every day...even when we are so frustrated we could scream; our bodies and minds quiet in the garden. Our breathing slows down, our muscles relax and we can breath deeper.

But scientists and researches won't take our word for it! They want to know how this is possible! "One theory, the biophilia hypothesis, suggests that physiological responses to certain natural environments are the result of evolutionary encoding in our genes. According to this hypothesis, environments that supported survival of our ancestors (such as those with lush vegetation and water) were encoded as visually attractive and produced a relaxation response." (Minnesota Medicine)

In other words, at the core of our being we a have a deeply rooted link to nature, a spiritual connection to wellness and wholeness.

To test their hypothesis, scientists set up studies that deliberately stressed participants. They discovered that measures of stress levels (heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension) all return to normal within minutes of being in a natural setting or looking at a photo of a natural setting. The same individuals experienced positive feelings, less fear and aggression.

No wonder gardens are being developed at hospitals, rehab centers and nursing homes. People get better...this is wonderful news in cases were over active stress responses make their conditions worse. Sitting in the garden can lift their spirits, aid their healing...

We know this, we didn't need a researcher to tell us that our gardens ground and nourish. We feel safe, relaxed, joyful and playful. Our gardens are places where we can let go of dis-ease.


I do not understand how anyone can live
without one small place of enchantment to turn to.
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings


  1. wonderful post. i always like reading about people who have a business in their home and have nice gardens for their client's enjoyment as well as theirs. great you share!

    what are those huge awesome stones on the path leading to the screen door? where did you get them and did you put them in? love them!

  2. Tina,

    That is the hardscape we finally put in last fall...Jones Stone in the Melrose neighborhood. They are called Doe Skin or something like that! Glad you liked the post.

    I will post before photos sometime!


  3. Just reading your post made me more relaxed. No wonder your text is calming, since that is your profession. I'll bet your voice is in even modulated tones. We had a next door neighbor at another house who was a psychologist, she never ever raised her voice, not to her husband, not to her kids, not ever, even when she was displeased, she would say so, but not change her tone. Are you like that?

  4. Frances,

    I could fib and tell you that is so, but my husband will tell you other wise when he meets you in Austin;) I do try to be that way for my clients...even when we talk about the tough stuff.

    Thank you for your most kind words!


  5. Gail
    What a wonderful post !
    Everything you have touched on is exactly how I feel about my garden .. that is why I feel much more pain and stress in the winter. Not being able to be in my garden is a gap in my life hard to bridge .. I read about gardens and plants all winter too. I have "The Herb Bible" .. the illustrations and commentary are wonderful, soothing in fact .. I am outgrowing my book cases with all the reading material I have, just like my actual garden ..
    I share plants with friends but lack another garden nut like myself here .. my girlfriend tries but she isn't really that interested. We go through the motions ? LOL
    In any case .. it is so wonderful to find other gardeners that feel it as intensely as I do.
    So thank you for this amazing post that explains how deeply our gardens affect us, in such a positive light.

  6. Great post! I left a comment earlier, but there was some error. Grr.

    I too think that gardening is great therapy. Although I didn't start my garden exclusively for that purpose, it helped me to work through some emotional issues I was having last summer. It was tough to deal with all of the things going on in my life. I must say that I have found my stress building up more over the winter as well. I suppose I should try to find another way to cope since I keep choosing to stay in this cold climate. So far chocolate has been helping the feelings, but NOT the waistline.

    It's nice that you can take breaks throughout your work day to destress in your garden if you need to. I'm sure your clients are happy to have a great space to enjoy!

  7. joy,

    Your welcome and thanks for a very thoughtful comment. I have a garden buddy, she and I are going to a big wildflower sale but really she hasn't the passionate attachment that I have and it sounds like you have, too.
    There was a time when I cut way back on gardening because of hip pain but I need to be in the garden...so I try to pace myself.
    Joy, I am glad you stopped by for chocolate talk!


  8. cinj,

    Soon you will be out in the warm green of spring!

    I feel so fortunate to be able to work at home and heed the siren call of the garden.

    I don't think I could ever move back up north...early springs have spoiled me.

    Always glad you stop over for a gab.


  9. I like to gab! Not a whole lot else to do around here, so I might as well get out on the net and make friends. You've always been so easy to "talk" to, it seems like we're old friends or something.

  10. cinj,

    Thank you kindly...

    Maybe we knew each other in a past life....I know I worked in a cocoa factory! Or maybe it was an ice cream shop...hmmm.. I am thinking about ice cream for dinner!

    Sorry, it's this right brain!


  11. gardenjoy4me, maybe you have a garden blogger friend close by to garden with? it took me forever to find my garden friend, geri. go thru the motions..i like that.

    cinj, i like to gab too! i hope gail and you all don't mind me talking to you guys. gail is so fun to talk to and in person too! it helps she is a therapist. yes? gardening always gets my feel good hormones going and we all need that pick me up sometimes.

  12. Tina,

    It seems natural to respond to all, I mean we read everyone's comments and some comments are absolutely great...you just want to get in on the conversation.


  13. Gail: Nicely done-- expressing how so many of us feel about our gardens. I never like it when I'm away from my home for any length of time as I am compelled to check on every thing outside as soon as I return.

    I created my gardens to fulfill that inner need to be around nature and beauty. I love to work the garden but I also love to sit and breathe it all in.

    I often wonder if I could manage living in another location or at least where all life goes dormant in the winter. I simply thrive on warm sunshine and all things green and growing-- all year long!

    Thanks for a lovely reflective post.
    Meems @Hoe&Shovel

  14. Gail- Maybe we worked in the chocolate factory together? LOL.

    Ice cream for dinner? YUM! I've done that, but usually if I'm doing something like that I have popcorn too- you know, to even out the protein and fiber balance? Okay, it doesn't really work that way, but it's nice to dream....

    Tina- I don't mind if Gail doesn't. You can always come and chat at my blog too. We were always getting in trouble for being off topic on the boards. Well, actually Anna and I more than anyone else. :) At least on blogs we can really just yak about whatever thought strikes us at the moment! I figure this is supposed to be like a conversation between all of us, not just a bunch of seperate comments all made to only one person, right? OR... maybe I'm just crazy?

  15. meems,

    You're welcome...

    I don't like to leave either, seems that that during that very time I am gone... is the time that something special is blooming! Right now the Virginia bluebells are getting ready to bloom, the trillium is coming up and I know I saw trout-lilies!

    I am visiting my mom in MO again...where it will be cold during the evenings.

    I can't imagine moving north, maybe south but not to that world of long, dark winters.


  16. cinj,

    I had Starbuck's Java Chip for dinner...nothing else!

    Go visit Tina's blogsite...she is a Tennessee blogger and lots of fun.


  17. Gail, your blog hit home right in the middle of my chest. So in depth right to the soul. How you're feeling is how most feel just don't admit it. It's like walking in the woods alone when no one else is within miles. A person is in tune with nature, with ones self. There you will find the answers to most or at least to part of what is ones problem. Walk into the woods of the Great Smokey Mtns & you will see what I mean. You can find it all there.

  18. lola,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I am deeply touched, really.

    ..there is something almost sacred about the Smokies (and I suspect other people feel that way about their natural areas)...


  19. Fantastic post Gail, worthy of a Mouse & Trowel nomination. :)

    I've always thought that I would love to work from home but I'm afraid that I would get nothing accomplished because I'd be out in the garden all the time!

  20. Phillip,

    well, I don't always get the house cleaned and sometimes we have to get takeout food in order to eat! That's what gardening season is like.

    Thanks for the compliment.


  21. To me it's a no brainer, gardens can't help but have a soothing tranquil effect on people! You clients are lucky to be able to enjoy your garden. There are so many things out there that scientists have to qualify and quantify before they will believe it. Like the effects of music on the brain. The effects of sound and sight are very hard to measure, so I guess that's why they try! Interesting post!

  22. Dave,

    Absolutely a no-brainer but we seem dependent upon research to prove what we know....like mothers and fathers knowing their babies cry in a room full of babies....my guess is there would be no gardens at nursing homes without it!


  23. I loved the post and the comments. What a nice treat for me today to come here and relax a bit. As you know, my life is so hectic right now and I'm reminding myself that my timing is off and I'm half a bubble off plum. I need my garden right now. Not having a garden is exactly what is wrong with me!!

    Gail, I've had to be stern with people all week and I dislike it so. I am really impatient with having to tell people over and over the same thing. I've even had to go to battle over some verbal agreements. There has just been too much negative lately and I want my sunny flowers back. Monday is closing on my new house. I'll have some closure.

    Thanks for helping me to see why I feel so badly. Being able to understand it is 3/4 the battle. Hugs!!! Great Post.

  24. Anna,

    Glad I could help...here I am in a hotel room and the garden is waiting...with all the new plants I treated myself to at the wildflower fair!

    Soon you will be in your new garden, in your new home and your garden dreams will unfold!

    I always love it when you visit my garden spot!


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